In 1968, Yvon Chouinard, Dick Dorworth, Lito Tejada-Flores, and Doug Tompkins loaded up a Ford Econoline with surf, ski, and climbing gear and drove 5,000 miles south along the Pan-American Highway. At the road’s end, they augured into a snow cave and, when the weather broke, established their California Route on Fitz Roy, Patagonia. Tejada-Flores filmed with a 16mm Bolex, and it became the film Mountain of Storms. The trip had an enormous impact on conservation and the outdoor industry (Chouinard owns Patagonia, Inc. and launched Chouinard Equipment, Ltd., which became Black Diamond Equipment; and Tompkins, who opened the original The North Face store, co-owned Esprit).
These threads come to life in the masterful film 180° South (180south.com), a marriage of climbing, surfing, and environmentalism as lived by the surfer/climber Jeff Johnson on a six-month journey. Johnson long dreamed of recreating the Californians’ voyage and does so via sailboat, with the goal of summiting Chile’s Cerro Corcovado, while badass surfer Keith Malloy, the director Chris’ brother, tackles virgin surf below. The project moves from El Cap’s North America Wall (a “warm-up” climb that leaves Keith Malloy nearly mute), to the Galapagos, to Peru, to Rapa Nui, to Chile. Throughout, Johnson examines the consequences of industrialization — the pulp mill poisoning a pointbreak in Constitución, Chile, and the proposed hydroelectric dams that will erase the gaucho life.
We also learn about how Tompkins, his wife, Kris, and Chouinard helped preserve 2.2 million acres in Chile and Argentina. Timmy O’Neill is along, too, as the climbing expert. Filmed with high-def cameras and tempered with mellow surf tunes, 180° South plays as a preservation film anchored by two complementary sports. (See Players, p.28, for an interview with Chris Malloy.) The culminating footage of Corcovado, the ocean far below, beggars the imagination. This is our planet, and we’d better care for it.
Meanwhile, the superb 180° South: Conquerors of the Useless ($60; patagonia.com) tells the story in coffeetable format, popping with unstaged photos from the 1968 road trip and the 2007/2008 one. Illuminating essays and conversations tackle the big themes. Although book and film are largely bios of Chouinard (and to some extent, Tompkins), seeing the man’s impact through others’ eyes brings profound meaning to both 180° efforts.